Movie filmed mostly in Concord to premier at Smitty’s in Tilton next week

  • Publicity still of First Signal cast. Left to right: Stephanie Eaton as Elisabeth Seward, Wendy Hartman as President Helen Colton, Conor Timmis as Cedric Yonah, Patience McStravick as Major Ellen Sampson, and Paul Noonan as General John Reager. —Mark Lund

  • First Signal poster. —Mark Lund

  • ">

    Actors, from left, Conor Timmis, Chris Goodwin and Patience McStravick — playing characters Cedric Yonah, James Griffin and Major Ellen Sampson — stand stoically during a shot for the sci-fi movie "First Signal" during filming in Orange.

  • Filming of a spaceship landing scene for the sci-fi movie 'First Signal' took place at Orange Municipal Airport.

  • First Signal director Mark Lund (right) talks with actors Patience McStravick and Paul Noonan during a break in filming on Saturday, June 22, 2019 at McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Film crew talk with actor Paul Noonan on the set of First Signal being shot at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord on Saturday, June 22, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

  • President Helen Colton (played by Wendy Hartman) mules over a decision during a scene of First Signal being filmed at McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord on Saturday, June 22, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

  • The film crew from the movie First Signal set up a shot under the direction of director Mark Lund at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord on Saturday, June 22, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Scientist Cedric Yonah (played Conor Timmis) and General John Reager (played by Paul Noonan explain to the president the nature of alien sighting during filming of First Signal being shot at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord on Saturday, June 22, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

  • General John Reager (played by Paul Noonan) shows President Helen Colton (played by Wendy Hartman) during a scene from First Signal being filmed at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord on Saturday, June 22, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 4/16/2021 11:23:24 AM

When Mark Lund was scouting locations to film his movie First Signal, he was looking for a location that could serve as a bunker – someplace barren, with few windows.

Traveling around New England, he paused to visit the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord. He was familiar with the facility near the NHTI campus with its Mercury Redstone Rocket pointing towards the sky and he wanted to take a closer look. Once he saw the museum’s primary meeting space, it clicked – he wound up finding the film’s primary shooting location. 

“Sometimes the best things happen in filmmaking unexpectedly,” Lund said.

First Signal, written and directed by Lund, is a science fiction film whose story revolves around the Air Force Space Command receiving a signal from an alien satellite in Earth orbit that sparks the unraveling of a government conspiracy.

Most of the film’s indoor locations were shot at the Discovery Center, which served as both a military base and a hotel with a bunker underneath. Exterior shots of the center were used as well. 

“It could not have been a better location for us,” Lund said. “When I think about it now, about how it worked out so beautifully, I’m like, ‘Wow.’ ”

Filming took place over the course of 2019, and the film was released in March, having its world premiere at Greenfield Garden Cinemas in Massachusetts. Now it will be premiering in New Hampshire, at Smitty’s Cinema in Tilton on Thursday.

“We’re very excited,” said Lund, “because, of course, the majority of the film was produced in New Hampshire.”

Many of the cast and crew are also from New Hampshire, said Lund, who is from Massachusetts. 

Lund hopes response to the premiere will be strong, especially sincde people have been deprived of seeing movies in theaters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People are out and doing their thing, looking to have some normalcy back in their life, and I think a theatrical experience does that for a lot of people,” he said.

Luckily, Lund said, COVID-19 didn’t affect the production of the film. Filming wrapped in 2019, and the film went into post-production, which is a process that Lund said can easily be done remotely.

Even the film festivals where Lund submitted First Signal were mostly virtual, he said. Since June of last year, the movie has been an official selection of 27 film festivals, and won 16 awards including Best Feature, Best Director, Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress.

For independent films like First Signal, Lund said, that kind of recognition is important, but not as wide-reaching as a good theatrical release.

“We know more about a film if it’s been released theatrically because it gets attention,” he said. “The theatrical experience is so important to the world of film.”

Lund, who covered the sport of figure skating as an analyst, founded International Figure Skating magazine in 1993 and wrote the book Frozen Assets: The New Order of Figure Skating in 2002, paid for First Signal himself and wrote the script specifically to work within iots five-figure budget.

“It’s a long process – from concept to Smitty’s was a four-year journey,” he said. This included writing, auditioning, shooting, editing, and shopping the completed film to distributors. Editing in particular took a lot of effort – Lund compared it to “putting together a puzzle” – as the film’s story required some “really involved” special effects.

“If you’re successful at it, it’s a piece of art that will last,” Lund said. “The biggest reward is honestly where you see it in the theater, because you sit there and you think, ‘Oh my God, we made it.’”

The New Hampshire premiere of First Signal will be at Smitty’s Cinema Tilton, on April 22 at 6:30 p.m. It will also be released in 68 countries by Amazon at the end of the month.

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